It was last summer that Thelma started noticing her mom wasn’t herself.
“Something’s wrong with mom,” she told her brother Brad.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“Something’s up, maybe she’s in another drug psychosis, because she’s got issues.”
Steve and she had gone to Florida with her mom and Pete, their stepdad, to their house there. She got into a problem then and got put on steroids. It just wreaked havoc with her. One thing led to another and she started overdoing, overtaking, and overdosing everything. It wasn’t exactly anything new. She went into a psychosis. They got her out of the hospital in Florida. They had to detox her.
“Mom, you have to go back to the hospital,” Thelma told her getting off the plane in Cleveland. “You have got to get clean.”
“I’m not going back to the hospital, Jay,” she said. He mom called Telly the Jay Bird.
“Yes, you are. You’re not done. There’s something seriously wrong. You have to go back and finish.”
“If you think I’m going back to the hospital, you’re wrong, I’m not. I’m healthy.”
She was mad as a hornet and called Telly everything but a white woman. “If you think this is fun for me, you are seriously mistaken,” Thelma said.
“Fuck off, Jay,” she said.
“Maybe later, mom, but right now, I’ve got to get you to a hospital.”
Even though she was pissed, they got her there. Afterwards things got better, even though she wasn’t sleeping any good at night. Then she fell and broke her spine. They told her she needed surgery.
“I don’t want to,” she said. “I’m going to go on pain management instead.”
“Oh, great,” she said to her brother. “She’s going to take more drugs.” Her house was already like a pharmacy.
But, within a week she couldn’t walk. She had to have surgery because of the way her vertebra broke. It was poking into a nerve. After surgery she seemed better, but she was high all the time. She would take an OxyContin and then a couple of Percosets and be gone like a kite in the sky. Telly’s mom was 78 years-old and was tripping. It wasn’t anything new. She took drugs most of her life. It started when she became a nurse. After that it was going to the doctor, getting drugs, then seeing more doctors, and getting more drugs.
Thelma started noticing after her mom started gettingslightly better that she was being less herself. At first, they thought she had a urinary tract infection, one thing after another. That’s why they thought she was looking sounding and acting crazy. But the doctor ruled out a urinary tract infection.
“I just have a flu,” Alma said.
“Maybe it’s missing the drugs,” said Pete. “She hasn’t taken any narcotics in three weeks.”
“Why isn’t she taking her drugs?” Telly asked. “She’s a major hypochondriac. I mean, she lives to take drugs.” All of a sudden, a woman who lived to take drugs wouldn’t take a single pill. She wouldn’t take her thyroid medication or her asthma medicine.
“You have to take these,” Telly said.
“You’re not a nurse,” Alma said.
“Take your medicine.”
On top of everything she was diabetic and wouldn’t take her insulin. “Don’t you think it’s time to measure her sugar?” Pete asked Telly.
“She doesn’t seem to have any idea,” she said. “It’s like she doesn’t know she needs insulin.”
They took her back to the doctor’s office. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He said she might have had some ministrokes, which he was going to have to test for. When they finally got her to take her medicine, she would only take them from Telly. She had to put them in applesauce and feed it to her like that. She wouldn’t take any from Pete or her brother Brad. Brad is like their dad and that makes Alma mad. She never liked Fred.
“Do want supper, mom?”
“No, I already ate some” she will say, even though she hasn’t. You have to live in her world. There’s no more reasoning with her. You have to take all reasoning out of the conversation.
Suppose she wants to have her hair brushed? You learn to use little white lies and trade-offs. “You take your medicine, mom, and I’ll brush your hair.” It’s hard to watch. It’s like seeing your mom revert back to childhood. Telly started doing art projects with her, just to keep her mind occupied.
“My brother helps a little, but my stepdad and I take care of her. My sister Patty, who hasn’t talked to me in more than seven years, lives in a podunk town somewhere in Maine. No one even knows the name of the town. My other sister, Betsy, has a hard time with it. It makes her sad, even though she and my mom never got along. She can’t deal with it and just stays away.”
Thelma to her mom’s house on Mondays and Fridays. She gave her a bath every Monday. Fridays were usually her bad day. Home health care comes in five days a week and makes sure she takes her medicines. She’ll take them from a stranger, although not always. One Thursday she slept for more than fourteen hours and when Friday morning arrived still didn’t want to get up.
“I don’t want to,” she said.
“But why mom?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t want to get you upset, but Tiffany’s going to be here tomorrow to give you your medicine. Do you remember Tiffany?”
“I don’t forget, Jay. The doctor says I don’t. I was just there.”
“OK, that’s what he said?”
“He says I don’t have a memory problem at all.”
“Mom, that’s great,” Telly said. “I’m glad you don’t have a memory problem,”
“She can come here, but I won’t get out of bed.”
“I can guarantee you she will be back here. You be nice.”
“Oh, I’m nice. I’m just not going to get up.”
“That’s not being nice.”
“I know what’s nice and not nice.”
There are some things she just knows. She doesn’t know, but she knows.